The Problem is…Problematic

The social media kerfluffle (as defined by Justina Ireland) surrounding author Andrew Smith’s recent interview in Vice shows no signs of slowing down. Please take a moment to read it while I go start my dishwasher.

Even if you didn’t read it (and you really should), the article’s title, “The Failure of Male Societies: Author Andrew Smith Tackles Monsters and Sex” gives a Scooby Doo-sized clue that a discussion about gender is going to happen.

The article came to my attention when I noticed authors on Twitter discussing the persistent nature of the mythos that women are unknowable, confounding creatures that no one, particularly no man, should be forced to write about in any meaningful way. They discussed how little agency, dignity, and nuance is afforded women and girl characters, and the lack of leeway and forgiveness women authors experience when they act problematically or, yanno, like humans.

Maybe I’ve just gotten lucky or implemented my mute/block strategy too effectively but I didn’t see anyone in my corner of the interwebs malign Smith personally. This isn’t about his personality. If folks are dragging him on that, the point and their heads are irrevocably separated.

Nice people can, and often do, say problematic shit

Calling out offensive behavior doesn’t make a person a monster or untalented or unfit to live. It means someone’s concerned with what they’ve said or done. And they might not use the most polite language to express said concern. When I reach peak levels of pissivity, I don’t usually sip tea with my pinky out while expressing my frustrations in dulcet tones. Sometimes I get loud. Sometimes I cuss the house down. My reaction to the offense doesn’t make it any lesser or greater. It still remains.

This climate fosters problematic shit

The writing community likes believing it exists in a Utopian snow globe but it continuously struggles with addressing social justice productively, when it bothers addressing it at all. Discussions are derailed most often when critique falls upon high-profile authors, agents, and publishers, many of whom are predominantly white. As soon as anyone asks, “Is this really what I think it is?” armies descend from the skies, capes emblazoned with the We Need Diverse Books logo flapping in the breeze. “You’re misinterpreting things,” they say. “How dare you? Stop being mean!”

Well, damn. Apparently, some things are Too Big to Question. No wonder people don’t speak up, especially online. I mean, who wants to endure hordes of doxx-happy trolls and their co-signing lackeys or get accused of being a bully? I can even understand fearing the painful yet liberating sting of having your privilege publicly unpacked. But resting on its unearned laurels while others fight on the front lines, which ultimately benefits everyone, not only perpetuates oppression, it makes you complicit in it.

The industry, particularly the kidlit realm, insists marginalized voices count but some authors, agents, editors, and publishers refuse to listen. Even if could even make it through the gates, which is still very unlikely, why would I want them profiting from my labors? Why would I read or recommend their books? Why would I want them representing me?

If being part of this community means accepting that their comfort depends on my misery, it’s not the place for me.












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